Portugal caught in Panama Papers scandal

With the world’s press delighting in what it calls the ‘bombshell revelations’ of the Panama Papers, the truth is that tax evasion and money-laundering through offshore havens by the corrupt, rich and famous has never been a secret. And Portugal, despite the fact that it is a tiny country and one of Europe’s poorest, has its fair share of “laughing millionaires” who, it seems, use every trick in the book to evade taxes at all available opportunities. That only 244 national companies, 23 ‘private clients’, 34 beneficiaries and 255 shareholders implicated in the Panama Papers scandal emanate from Portugal is very possibly just the “tip of the iceberg”.

National papers are certainly dubbing it as such, with expectations that many more details and many more Mossack Fonseca-type operations will come to light.

In the meantime, Portugal’s public ministry and, more importantly, its tax bosses are positively jangling with excitement as names and incriminating information filter through from the 11.5 million leaked documents.

Already a petition supported by “various leading names from the Socialist Party” has been set up to demand the end to fiscal secrecy in Portugal.

Launched by the STI union of tax employees it aims to get the statutory 4,000 signatures so the matter can be discussed in parliament.

“What the Panama Papers show is that there is a huge scheme designed to hide people’s wealth and earnings which is backed by the (world’s) banks,” STI president Paulo Ralha explains – stressing Portugal actually has to go beyond the “simple end to banking secrecy”.

“We have concrete examples in which banks are advising clients to remove their money as their accounts are about to be frozen by the tax authorities. The fight against tax evasion will only work if there is total transparency.”

Ralha said it is also time that everyday working folk – who were not long ago advised to ask for receipts for a simple cup of coffee to ensure their fellow man was not diddling the State – realise that the AT (tax authority) spent €5 million designing an IT system that makes it impossible for tax inspectors to investigate Portugal’s rich and famous.

He stressed that politicians are among this elite. And there’s the rub. With politicians responsible for changes to the law, what chance can transparency ever have?

The Panama Papers show “what we all knew all along”, stresses a leader article in national tabloid Correio da Manhã.

“The documents prove that politicians of all persuasions are friends of the banks that strangle us with made-to-measure crises that make the evil people who ruin millions of human beings even richer than they were before.

“Wars, crises, catastrophes – nothing matters as long as it makes money. As The Guardian explains, HSBC bank for example helped save the millions of Rami Makhlouf, one of the corrupt businessmen denounced in the Panama Papers, and cousin of (Syrian) dictator Bashar al-Assad.”

With the only Portuguese named and shamed for now (Idalécio de Oliveira) already implicated in Brazil’s massive Car Wash scandal and by all accounts “long gone from Portugal”, Jornal i says more names “relevant in Portuguese society” will start emerging in the next few days.

But what will come of the media’s ‘finger-pointing’ remains to be seen.

António Domingues de Azevedo, the head of the country’s order of accounts, has been interviewed about the “disgrace” that Portugal endures, greasing palms and doing favours for friends. But it is, and always has been, the norm.
No government this far has brought in any legislation that stops corruption – the understanding among ‘lower orders’ being because powermakers don’t want anything to stop their gravy train.

Last year, for instance – according to the Bank of Portugal’s own data – no less than €2.3 million “left the country for offshores dotted around the world every day”, writes Correio da Manhã, while a documentary put out last October claims this is how the wealth of nations has “gone missing”.

Tax havens, in the end, are the root of the world’s “soaring inequality”.

“Many politicians have the illusion that they actually run their country,” a financial mogul explained in “The Price We Pay” (official trailer available on Youtube), “when actually they run their country within the confines the global financial system places on them”.

Only a few months ago, former director general of taxes, Azevedo Pereira, was called to parliament to explain his own revelations that “more than 1,000 super-rich Portuguese families are not paying the correct amount of taxes” – and what came of that? He addressed parliament as to why he had said that “in any country that takes taxes seriously this group of privileged individuals would habitually guarantee around 25% of IRS receipts a year”, when in effect it only assures 0.5% (which means Portugal’s laughing millionaires “pay 500 times less than they should”) and still today the country is in a position where fiscal transparency is relative.

Could Portugal ever get to the point where citizens actually stone the building(s) of corrupt powermakers – as has happened in Iceland, forcing the resignation of the country’s prime minister?

Correio da Manhã suggests “the Panama Papers and the exemplary attitude of Iceland prove that it is up to citizens, the people penalised throughout the world, to force changes to the financial and political machinery that feeds off them”.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]